US recognition of Armenian genocide puts US-Turkish relations under fresh strain
Turkey under the leadership of Erdogan has suffered from US sanctions and Ankara cannot be too pleased with President Biden's decision to 'recognise' the Armenian genocide 106 years ago
US President Joe Biden became the first American President by taking a stand on the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day on April 24 and recognising that the killing of Armenians in 1915-16 during World War-I in territories under the control of the Ottoman Empire constituted "an act of genocide".
What impact his stand will have on the 60,000-plus Armenians living in Turkey remains to be seen. All past Presidents including President Obama had avoided taking a stand despite intense lobbying by Armenians and human rights activists. While President Biden was careful in saying that the recognition was not to blame anyone, and he indeed called up the Turkish President to break the news in advance, relations between Ankara and Washington D.C. are likely to remain frosty.
Perhaps, the US President primarily wanted to express his displeasure over the Turkish decision to buy Russian missiles -- S400 defence system -- and a Turkish state bank's role in facilitating payments to Iran for its transactions with other countries despite the US sanctions against Tehran being in force.
Turkey's role has also been controversial in last year's war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Ankara openly supported Azerbaijan, ignoring the views of many countries, as this suited its regional interests.
In any case, the relations between the US and Turkey have been tense ever since an unsuccessful but bloody coup in July 2016 to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by elements supported by US-based controversial religious figure Fetullah Gulen in the Turkish armed forces. The Turkish government has punished all those involved in the failed coup attempt except for Gulen, a Turkish national who lives in the US and the authorities in Washington DC refuse to hand him over to Turkey.
Turkey suffered crippling US sanctions during the Donald Trump administration following the arrest of a controversial American pastor, Andrew Brunson, in October 2016 on charges that included his links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Fethullah Gulen's movement, accused of being involved in the 2016 failed coup in Turkey. Brunson was a pastor associated with the Izmir Resurrection Church, not a big institution. But he was a US citizen who lived in Turkey for a long time. He was ultimately released by the Turkish authorities, but his arrest brought the relations between the two NATO members to such a low point that ultimately the US came out with sanctions against Turkey. A NATO power punished a NATO ally for the first time in the history of the military alliance.
Turkey under the leadership of Erdogan has been made to suffer for a few years by the US with the ultimate objective of economically weakening it to such an extent that it abandons its active role in West Asia as well as in Central Asia where the US and its regional allies feel their interests are seriously threatened. Turkey has also emerged as a major threat to the dominant position of Saudi Arabia, a close US ally, in the Muslim world which cannot be tolerated by America. So, Turkey has to suffer the US wrath, come what may. Biden and Erdogan are scheduled to be in Brussels, Belgium, for the NATO meeting on June 14 when they may discuss the Armenian genocide issue with the Turkish President trying to convince the American leader to abandon his controversial stand, an exercise unlikely to succeed.
(The writer is a senior journalist and columnist based in New Delhi
Views are personal)